Archives provinciales du Nouveau-Brunswick

Fort Havoc (Wallace Hale)

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Early Navigation on the Upper St. John




The first steamer regularly employed on the route from Fredericton to Woodstock was "The Carleton" — a boat built by Messrs. Craig of St. John for George Connell, Esq., of Woodstock about the year 1847. She was a stern wheeler of only 14 inches draft of water, and provided with an excellent engine. She did a large business, and used to run the greater part of the summer — a circumstance partly due to her light draft and also in part to the fact that in olden times, before the country was cleared of forest, the river did not fall so rapidly after the spring freshets as it does now. The arrival of the "Carleton" was a source of pride and satisfaction to the Woodstock people, she being the first steamboat owned in that place. On her first trip as she rounded the island oposite the town, she was welcomed by a salute from the Woodstock artillery. The "Carleton" probably had as extensive a business as any boat since employed on the same route, and proved a financial success to her owner as well as a great accommodation to the public. Mr. Connell afterwards, namely in 1853, built the "John Warren," a side-wheel steamer of greater draft and requiring more power to propel her than the "Carleton." She was not so successful a venture from the financial standpoint.

The first side-wheel steamer placed regularly on the up-river route was the famous "Reindeer." She was built at the mouth of the Nashwaaksis for Thomas Pickard in the year 1846. Her designer, Benjamin Tibbits, was a young man of quiet manners but in his way a genius. As musician, painter, designer, and inventor he was alike gifted. The model of the "Reindeer" combined the qualifications of speed and beauty with light draft of water. Her engines, which were designed by Mr. Tibbits, were constructed on the then novel idea of high and low pressure, and the result was eminently economical and satisfactory. The "Reindeer" used to make the run from Fredericton to Woodstock on four cords of wood, while other boats consumed from seven to nine. The condensing principle applied by Mr. Tibbits in the construction of the engines of the "Reindeer" is that now followed by all the great steamship engine-makers of the world. Like many other notable inventors, he profited little or nothing by the success of his invention. The "Reindeer" was considered by many the most beautiful boat that ever traversed the River St. John waters, "She walked the waters like a thing of life," and was, in her day, the fastest boat on the route. After her arrival at Woodstock, she carried a large excursion party to the Grand Falls. The party included a number of Woodstock's most prominent citizens, accompanied by a band. The music supplied by the latter was a novel sound to the dwellers along the river, and was particularly appreciated by the Frenchmen of Grand Falls. On the return trip, Benjamin Beveridge, Esq., of Tobique, presented a fine pair of antlers which henceforth adorned the prow of the gallant "Reindeer."

A steamer called the "Madawaska," also designed by Mr. Tibbits, upon similar lines and with the same kind of engines as the "Reindeer," was placed on the river above the Grand Falls and ran between that place and Edmundston or "Little Falls," as it was then called. This boat also gave general satisfaction. When the river was too low for traffic above Fredericton, the "Reindeer" was employed on the lower river route. On the 16th of June, 1848, she for the first time ascended the Kennebecasis to Hampton where she continued to make regular trips twice a week.

Two American-built stamboats, the "James D. Pierce" and "Ben Beveridge" were placed on the route above Fredericton in the year 1850. Both these boats came to an untimely end, the cause in each case being a boiler explosion. Fortunately, disasters of this kind have been of rare occurrence on the St. John as contrasted with similar events on the Mississippi and the Hudson. We may here give a brief account of these two tragic events.

One fine morning in the month of June 1850, the "Reindeer" lay at the lower landing in Fredericton; the "Pierce" and "Beveridge" at the middle landing, all ready to start for Woodstock and with full heads of steam on. A large number of raftsmen were to embark at Springhill, and it was the object of each boat to reach that point first. The three boats started at the same moment, and it was a most exciting race till they reached the Government House point. The "Reindeer" was passing the "Beveridge," both at full speed, when the latter blew up, her passengers were thrown violently into the water. A large plank from the gangway [14 ?] feet long, 11 inches wide, 3 inches thick, struck the "Reindeer" with terrific force, but luckily did no harm to her passengers or crew. The "Beveridge" was torn to the water's edge, and three of her passengers were killed outright. The late Capt. David Currier, who had command of the "Reindeer" at the time, in describing the accident, said that when he first saw the injured boat after the explosion, he noticed the stewardess, Rosy Cole, waist-dep in the water on the deck of the "Beveridge" and insisting in loud tones that drunkenness was at the bottom of the accident. There was a very strong feeling at the time against the engineer of the "Beveridge," and it would have gone hard with him had he been caught. He succeeded in making his escape to the United States.

The other steamer referred to — the "James D. Pierce" — was blown up a few years later at a place a little below the Meductic Falls. Among the passengers on that occasion was a Mrs. Johnson, daughter of the late Charles P. Wetmore of Fredericton, who was killed outright, and her untimely death sincerely deplored by a large circle of relatives and friends. The force of the explosion was so tremendous that the pilot-house was blown up in the air with great violence. No trace of the unfortunate pilot was afterwards found.

The next boat placed on the up-river route was the "Richmond," a long stern-wheeler, originally built for the lower route; but having been condemned on account of her slowness, she was placed on the Upper St. John. Here she was equally unpopular as a passenger boat, but having good capacity as a freight-carrying steamer, she succeeded fairly well.

The "Bonnie Doon" came on the river about 1855. She was long commanded by Capt. Lewis Smith who was part owner. She was a high-pressure stern-wheeler, an active little boat, and had many friends and admireres, and proved a keen rival of the "Reindeer." As soon as the river was cleared of ice, might be heard the clear shrill whistle of the "Doon," a welcome harbinger of spring and of the opening of navigation. The engines of the "Doon" were afterwards placed in her successor, the "Highlander," a boat built upon much the same plan. A few years later an American company, the "Peoples' Line," placed upon the route a stern-wheel boat called the "Tobique." The "Reindeer" having been worn out in the service her machinery was placed in a new boat, built much upon the same model and called the "Antelope."

There was for several years the keenest kind of rivalry between the three boats mentioned — the "Antelope," the "Highlander," and the "Tobique." The first of these was undoubtedly the fastest steamer ever employed on the Upper St. John. The relative merits of the "Highlander" and "Tobique" were always a subject of dispute between their respective admirers. On one occasion the "Antelope" leaving Fredericton at 6 a. m. arrived at Woodstock 1:30 p. m., half an hour in advance of her rival the "Tobique." Both boats returned to Fredericton the same afternoon, the "Antelope" making the round trip in 12 hours, a feat that still remains unequalled.


W. O. Raymond


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[Published 12 May 1897]